Teams, tales and tips – a guide to the local game
Walsall has long been associated with leather. ‘Saddlers’ is both the name of the town’s shopping centre and the nickname of its football team. A local tourist attraction is the Leather Museum.
There you’ll find the very football, locally manufactured, that was used when Walsall FC famously beat the great Arsenal side of 1933 in the FA Cup. Apart from another couple of cup upsets, this 2-0 victory represents the main achievement of a club whose history dates back to the inaugural year of the Football League, 1888. Four years later, the then named Walsall Town Swifts were founder members of the Second Division.
A small market town until the Industrial Revolution, Walsall has long since been swallowed up in the sprawling West Midlands conurbation – Walsall’s neat, functional Bescot Stadium, aka Banks’s Stadium, stands in the shadow of a manic, clogged section of the M6, one of the busiest stretches of road in Europe.
One of the first of the wave of English new-builds, the ground replaced Fellows Park a quarter of a mile away. Now the site of a supermarket, Fellows Park was the Saddlers’ home for just under a century. The club had moved there from West Bromwich Road – WBA and Wolves remain Walsall’s longest-serving rivals, though the club’s near constant presence in the third flight since World War I means that in modern times, Shrewsbury and Port Vale have come to elicit more acrimony.
These days, it seems Walsall is on the up. The business park surrounding the Bescot reflects the more diverse, small-scale industry on which the area now survives.
Arriving in town, local transport and timings
Trains from London Euston and Manchester Piccadilly (cheapest online singles £25-£30) also require a change at Birmingham New Street (plus Crewe from Manchester), overall journey time 2hrs 15-30mins. Walsall station is on the edge of the town centre. The Bescot Stadium is way south-west of town, with its own train station, directly linked with Birmingham New Street. Adding a Walsall PlusBus supplement (£3.40) to your ticket allows you to use the many local bus services for the rest of the day.
Based near the Bescot Stadium, Go Carz (01922 414 243) offer transfers from many airports including Birmingham.
Several bus companies serve Walsall and area – Transport for West Midlands has all details of routes, tickets and times. An off-peak nbus day pass is £4.20, valid on all services from 9.30am weekdays and all day weekends, by using a free Swift card available at the bus station or on your mobile. There’s also a Bus & Metro Daysaver (£5.60) for the tram as well.
Where to Drink
The best pubs and bars for football fans
In town, close to St Paul’s main bus station and a quick hop to the stadium, The Pitch is a large modern chain sports bar. Round the corner, St Matthews Hall is a Wetherspoons set in a magnificent pillared building on Lichfield Road. Nearby on Darwall Street, the Tap & Tanner is a popular modern pub with TV football.
On Walsall High Street, the Black Country Arms offers traditional hand-pulled ales and live music.
Just north of the town centre by the Walsall Canal, the George Stephenson is now in the Harvester chain, focusing on meal deals. It’s a family-friendly spot open from breakfast, with a nice wooded setting.
If you’re with the car or happy to get to town by bus or taxi, there are plenty of recommendable choices in Walsall’s immediate vicinity. In Pelsall, three miles east, the rural Railway is a cosy place to watch the match over a fine ale. The Old House at Home is similarly rustic, and goes big on pub food.
Near Bloxwich station, the faux-Tudor Romping Cat (96-97 Elmore Green Road) has been refurbished to show off the cosy interior set within a Grade II listed building. Close by at No.60, the Spring Cottage is another traditional local.
In North Bloxwich near the golf club, One Man & His Dog is a sprawling, pleasant pub and restaurant on Turnberry Road.
Where to stay
The best hotels for the ground and around town
The nearest to the Bescot Stadium is the Park Inn, a mid-to-upper range chain in the Radisson group with its own bar and restaurant. It’s conveniently set on Bescot Crescent 50 metres behind the away end, directly across the car park.
Another hotel is also handy for the stadium, set either side of the roundabout where Birmingham Road and Broadway meet. Metro Inns Walsall is part of a modest budget chain, newly refurbished with a bar and restaurant. Closer to town, the County Hotel is a long-established, family-owned institution, popular for weddings.
North-east of Walsall, on leafy Lichfield Road, the Beverley is well run and nicely furnished, with its own bar and restaurant while slightly closer to town, the Daldrada (No.40, 01922 628 475) is a small budget B&B. Several buses stop nearby from Walsall bus station.
Set west of town by the M6 motorway, the Village Hotel caters to the business traveller with its state-of-the-art gym, pool and sauna, while on the same side of the roundabout is a Holiday Inn Express. From here, bus 529 from Wolverhampton Road at the top of the slip road runs into town.